The most destructive mammal on earth, the Norway Rat, is named after one of the world's most beautiful and rat-free countries. It initially invaded all of the maritime nations of Europe about the same time and is much plentiful outside of Norway than in it, but somehow the name stuck. It is the largest, most aggressive and adaptable of the world's four major rat species. [Source: Thomas Canby, National Geographic July 1977]

The European viper is a poisonous snake that reaches lengths of one to three feet. Europe's only poisonous snake, this rare beast has a bite that causes bleeding and tissue damage. The mortality rate is low and there is an antivenin. In April 2001, a photographer died from antidote, not snake bite of a European viper. Anova reported: “A photographer who was bitten by a viper he was trying to capture on film, has died after developing an allergic reaction to the antidote. The 37-year-old was bitten on both hands when he went too close to the snake while trying to photograph it in a forest, near Vasarosnameny in Hungary. The man, who has not been named, had gone to the woods to find one of the snakes and had prepared beforehand by getting a supply of the antidote. He was one of a small number of people who are found to be severely allergic to the antidote and died minutes after taking it. [Source: Ananova April 30, 2001]

The greater noctule, the largest bat species in Europe, regularly preys on small migrating birds. Examination of he bat feces have revealed feathers.


Hibernation is a process in which animals in temperate climates go into a sleep-like state and refrain from eating or drinking to survive the cold and lack of food in the winter. The metabolism of hibernating animals slows and their temperature drops by as much as 37 degrees F to 50 degrees F. The body uses just 13 percent of the energy it does when its awake. The central nervous system is maintained

Hibernation differs from sleep in that the breathing rate and the body temperature of the animals are dramatically reduced. When the weather becomes cold animals become sluggish and look for a place to hibernate. The hibernation period lasts from three to seven months depending on the length and severity of winter.

Some insects become frozen solid and some frogs become partly frozen. The temperature of other hibernating animals often drops to near zero. Mammals often become only slightly warmer than the air around them and develop slow and regular heart beats. If they become dangerously cold they "wake up" and warm themselves by moving around. If that doesn't work they risk freezing to death.

Hibernation seems to be triggered by low temperatures, shorter days and snow. Animals like a quiet and dark place for hibernation and will wake up if disturbed. Most animals prepare for winter or hibernation by fattening up during the summer and autumn. Some store food for hibernation and wake up occasionally but most don't. Animals that are the fattest often hibernate the longest. One the mysteries of hibernation is how animals urinate and defecate, either very little or not all.

Foxes, wolves, rabbits, deer, moose and elf don't hibernate. Other animals do. Tree fogs, skunks seek shelter in hollows of trees. Frogs and some turtles burrow in the mud. Snakes, bears, some mice and other small mammals climb into dens.

Deaths during hibernation are rare even though the rate of blood flowing to the brain is 10 percent of normal. If the human brain were deprived of that much blood death or major brain disorders would result. Scientists are studying hibernation and its applications to humans, particularly for space travel, preservation of organs for transplants and regulation of the blood during surgery.


Hedgehog are gentle, somewhat mouselike creatures with white tipped spikes covering most of their body. They are found throughout Europe, Asia and Africa. Their unique design has been so successful the hedgehog has survived for 70 million years, since the age of dinosaurs, virtually unchanged. A few years ago they became popular as pets in the United States. They are popular, pet store owners say, because they don't bite, chew up things, get too big or smell. In the wild, hedgehogs are common in many places, but they have suffered from heavy pesticide use and industrial agriculture. [Source: Chris Reiter and Gina C. Gould, Natural History, July 1998]

Hedgehogs reach a length of about 15 centimeters (six inches) and weigh around half a kilogram (a pound or two). They have poor eyesight but possess acute senses of smell and hearing. Hedgehogs are so named because in England they like to hang around hedges. They are also comfortable in forests, pastures, and backyard gardens. They like to sleep in a burrow or nests of twigs and leaves.

The 7,000 or so spines on the hedgehog's back and sides are actually modified hairs with hair chambers that became stiff when the animal is frightened or angry. Disturbed hedgehogs roll themselves into grapefruit-size balls that are difficult for humans to pick up or predators to bite. Unlike porcupine quills, hedgehog spines are short, lightweight and flexible. When a hedgehog feels threatened special muscles cause it to ball up and cinch its head and legs within a fleshy hood

None of these are as strange as prehistoric hedgehogs. Nine million years a giant carnivorous hedgehog ruled an island in the Mediterranean. Thirty million year ago a hedgehog became so adapted at digging burrows jackhammer-style with its head it may have evolved out its lags and become the first limbless mammal.

Hedgehog Behavior and Feeding

Hedgehogs are primarily solitary ad nocturnal. The hibernate and sometimes estivate (sleep in for period in the summer) and occupy territories of around an acre. After ejaculating sperm male hedgehog produce a kind of plug which seals the female's orifice and prevent competitors from impregnating the female. According to the Nature Lover's Library: Field Guide to the Animals of Britain: "If a hedgehog is seen to froth at the mouth and twist itself about, it is not sick but is spreading the frothy saliva on its fur and spines with its tongue. The purpose of the behavior is unknown, but it is quite normal." This behavior is called self-anointing and is usually done when encountering a strange scent.

Hedgehogs are omnivorous. They feed primarily on insects, spiders, frogs, seeds and other kinds of vegetation. Sometimes the feed on mice, and even snakes. Hedgehogs often rely on their sense of hearing to detect the sounds of prey, such as rustling leaves and scratching and digging insects.

Hedgehogs have a resistance but are not immune to snake venom. The ancient Egyptians used to wear hedgehog amulets to ward off snakebites. The way they fight snakes is roll up in a ball and use their spines to fend off the snake strikes, When the snake wears itself out or is injured by spines, the hedgehog emerges from the ball and goes in for the kill.

Hedgehogs and Literature

Hedgehogs have appeared in Egyptian myths, Greek fables, Chinese poems, Latvian folktales and Monty Python skits. In "Alice in Wonderball" hedgehogs were rolled up like balls and struck with flamingos in the Queen's game of Castle Croquet.

A hedgehog was the featured animal in Beatrice Potter's "The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle." "And what are you dipping into the basin of starch?"...There' little dicky shirt-front belonging to Tom Titmouse—most terrible particular!” said Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle.

The 9th-century Chinese poet Chu Chen Pu wrote: “
He ambles along like a walking pincushion,
Stops and curls like a chestnut burr.
He's not worried because he's so little.
Nobody is going to slap him around. “

Rabbits and Hares

Lagomorpha— hares, rabbits and pikas—have two pairs of sharp, chisel-like incisors (rodents have only one pair) that grow continuously. These are used to chop off grasses and other vegetation with a distinctive, clean, angled stroke. A male rabbit is called a buck. A female is called a doe. Young are called bunnies, kits or kittens. A group is called a colony or warren. A baby hare is called a leveret.

Both hares and rabbits have long front teeth, long ears and short back legs for running and jumping. The two kinds of animals look very similar and telling them apart can be difficult. A jack rabbit is actually a hare. The Belgian hare is really a rabbit.

Hares and rabbits are prey for many animals including lynx, hawks, owls, wolves and foxes. They reproduce quickly and thus produce a reliable food source except when their populations suddenly crashes as does happen in some places at some times. To escape from predators hares and rabbits rely on speed, their leaping ability, and ability to dart around in an unpredictable way. Some rabbits can leap 20 feet in a single bound.

Rabbit meat is very popular in some countries in Europe. It usually sold cut up or frozen like chicken and is fried or roasted. Fryer rabbits are usually slaughtered when they are two months old. Older ones are sold as roasters. Rabbit fur is used make lining for clothes. Angora rabbits are famous for their soft wool.

According to PETA: Rabbits are slaughtered by the millions for meat, particularly in China, Italy, and Spain. Once considered a mere byproduct of this consumption, the rabbit-fur industry demands the thicker pelt of an older animal (rabbits raised for meat are killed before the age of 12 weeks).(5) The United Nations reports that at least 1 billion rabbits are killed each year for their fur, which is used in clothing, as lures in flyfishing, and for trim on craft items. [Source: People for the Ethical Treatment (PETA)]

Differences Between Hares and Rabbits

Hares are larger heavier and lankier and have longer and thinner ears and bodies than rabbits. With its longer legs it can out jump a rabbit and move much faster (a European brown hare has been clocked going 45 mph). A rabbit’s fur stays the same color year-round. A hare’s coat often changes from grayish brown in summer to white in winter.

Hares prefer simple above-ground nests while all rabbits except cottontails dig holes and live in underground burrows. Rabbits are social, regional animals that like living n groups. They escape danger by going underground. Hares tend be loners, living alone or in pairs. They escape danger by running away. One of the main difference between rabbits and hares is that rabbits have dens and hares don't. Hares, as a result, are faster and have sharper senses to protect them from predators.

Hares give birth to two or three litters a year. Young hares are born with their eyes open and fur and are ready to take care of themselves. They can see and hop around soon after birth. Rabbits have many litters. They go through much more trouble to take care of their young. Young rabbits are born helpless and blind with their eyes closed and lack fur. Their mother shelters them in a fur-lined nest. Hares don’t make a nest. Female European hares are only receptive for a few hours every six weeks. Males fight aggressively for their attentions. The females often pick the most persistent males.

Brenna Maloney of the National Zoo in Washington D.C. told the Washington Post, “Hares are generally more aloof, more prone to stress. They don’t make as good pets.” European rabbits are sociable creatures who often live in communities called warrens made up a number of interconnected underground dens. The warren is usually led by a matriarch and her offspring and their offspring and their offspring.

Hare and Rabbit Feeding

Lagomorphs are completely vegetarian, and have evolved a unique system for extracting the maximum nutritional value from coarse plants. The food is first passed through their digestive system and discharged as soft feces. The rabbits and hares eat these, These are then reingested and passed through again, emerging as the dry round pellets that you see in clusters all over their feeding grounds.

The way rabbits digests leaves thus involves eating their own droppings., When they are asleep in their burrows at night they excrete black sticky pellets from their anus. These are consumed to go through a second round of digestive processing. The second round are excreted outside the den after the rabbit wakes up.

Rabbit food such as grass and leafy weeds is high in cellulose and difficult to digest. Chewed plant material collect in an area of the digestive tract called the cecum, The cecum contains bacterial colonies that partly break the cellulose down. When the soft feces are ingested they are eaten whole and digested in a special part of the stomach, If they only ate their food once they wouldn’t absorb enough nutrients.

Hares and rabbits feed at night—which is why most people with pet rabbits have never seen them eat their poop—and stay in their nests during the day. They rabbits have strong chisel-like front teeth and are gnawing animals like rats, mice and squirrels. They have sensitive hearing and smell.

Snowshoe Hares

Snowshoe hares turn from brown to white in the winter and back to brown again after the snow melts. They live in the far north and mountainous areas have a 10 year population cycle. The numbers of predators that feed on them—lynx, owls and foxes—rise and crashes with them. Snowshoe hares are found throughout Canada and in the northernmost United States. The range extends south along the Sierras, Rockies, and Appalachian mountain ranges.

Snowshoe hares range in length from 413 to 518 mm, of which 39 to 52 mm are tail. The hind foot, long and wide, measures 117 to 147 mm in length. The ears are 62 to 70 mm from base to tip. Snowshoe hares usually weigh between 1.43 and 1.55 kg. Males are slightly smaller than females, as is typical for members of the rabbit family. In the summer, the coat is a rusty or grayish brown, with a blackish line down the middle of the back, buffy sides and a white belly. The face and legs are cinnamon brown. The ears are brownish with black tips and white or creamy borders. During the winter, the fur is almost entirely white, except for black eyelids and the blackened tips on the ears. The bottoms of the feet are covered with thick fur, with stiff hairs (forming the snowshoe) on the hind feet. [Source: University of Michigan School of Education, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology]

The diet of snowshoe hares is variable. They eat many different kinds of grasses, small leafy plants, and flowers. The new growth of trembling aspen, birches and willows is also eaten. During the winter, snowshoe hares forage on buds, twigs, bark, and evergreens. They have been known to scavenge the remains of their own kind in the winter months. At all times, it is important for hares to eat a certain type of feces that they produce. Because much of the digestion of food occurs in the last portion of their gut, in order to get all of the available nutrients from their food, they must cycle it through their digestive system a second time. /

Breeding season for snowshoe hares runs from mid-March through August. Pregnancy lasts 36 days. When labor approaches, female hares become highly aggressive and intolerant of males. They go to a birthing area, where they have prepared an area of packed down grasses. Females give birth to litters of up to 8 young, although the average litter size is usually two to four young. Litters born late in the season tend to be larger than litters born in the spring. Females may have up to four litters a year, depending on enviromental conditions. Males and females become mature within a year of their birth. /

“Young snowshoe hares are born fully furred and able to move around. The young hide in separate places during the day, only coming together for 5 to 10 minutes at a time to nurse. The female alone cares for them until they are weaned and ready to go off on their own, about four weeks after they are born. In the wild as much as 85 percent of snowshoe hares do not live longer than one year. Individuals may live up to 5 years in the wild. /

Snowshoe Hare Behavior

Snowshoe hares are typically solitary, but they often live near many other hares, and individuals share overlapping home ranges. They are active at low light levels and so are most often seen out and about at dawn, dusk, and during the night. They are also active on cloudy days. During the daylight hours, hares spend a great deal of time grooming, and they take occasional naps. They are most active along pathways, trampled down "roads" in the vegetation that the hares know very thoroughly. Hares like to take dust baths. These help to remove parasites, such as fleas and lice, from the hares' fur. [Source: University of Michigan School of Education, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology]

Snowshoe hares have excellent hearing, which helps them to identify approaching predators. They are not particularly vocal animals, but may make loud squealing sounds when captured. When fighting with each other, these animals may hiss and snort. Most communication between hares involves thumping the hind feet against the ground. /

Snowshoe hares are experts at escaping predators. Young hares often "freeze" in their tracks when they sense a predator nearby. They are trying to escape notice by blending in with their background. Given the hare's background-matching coloration, this strategy is quite effective. Older hares are more likely to escape predators by fleeing. At top speed, a snowshoe hare can travel up to 27 mile per hour. An adult hare can cover up to 10 feet in a single bound. In addition to high speeds, hares use skillful changes in direction and vertical leaps, which may cause a predator to misjudge the exact position of the animal from one moment to the next. Snowshoe hares are also good swimmers. They occasionally swim across small lakes and rivers, and they have been seen entering the water in order to avoid predators. /

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated May 2016

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